Foster Families – How will your kids handle it?

The other day I received this comment from Jane, whose parents opened their home to foster children. She has recently started a blog about what it was like to grow up in a home with foster children.

I have recently,(yesterday) started my blog about growing up a “natural” child in a family that took in foster children. As I became an older teenager, my mom had become a Foster Parent Trainer and would take me to the trainings so potential Foster Parents could ask me questions about how their children might feel throughout the experience. I know that was one of the most helpful times for many new families and I wish it would be a requirement in the foster parent training program. Just a thought.

Thanks, Jane for being willing to share your experience with us.

I’ve often heard the idea expressed in adoption and foster care circles about not introducing a child into one’s home who is older than the youngest child of the original family.  Especially in the case of foster children, there can be very real safety issues involved for younger children, who can become targets of all kinds of abuse.

Another issue to consider is the fact that children introduced to a new family require a level of one-on-one attention and bonding that could be very difficult to give with younger children in the house.  The natural dynamic of “birth order” becomes disrupted, with younger children (and even older ones) responding negatively to the usurper of the parents’ attentions.

Of course, there are exceptions to every “rule.”  Perhaps yours is one of them. What has been your experience?


Juggling with the Stress Monster

In my book “Raising Up Mommy,” I write about how the seven deadly sins of motherhood that catch us up in our unguarded moments, especially in times of stress or anxiety. (I have often said that I didn’t realize what a problem I had with anger until I became a mother!)

For most of us, certain times of the day are especially stressful. For us, it’s the “witching hour” right before dinner, when the kids can’t look cross-eyed at one another without erupting into shrieks and fits. So, as much for my own sanity as their growth in virtue, I’ve learned a few “tricks of the trade” that I thought I’d share with you today. Feel free to write in and share what works for you!

  • Find humor in the moment – no matter how un-funny your life seems at the time. When a child practices his penmanship all over your freshly painted family room wall: “I declar I am the President of the upstair, and SARHA must GET OUT and quit bugging me!”), you can go nuts … or chuckle at the creative way he attempted to solve his own problems with his pesky sister.
  • Use blocks of time wisely. Crashing on the couch with a Mike’s and your favorite sitcom is tempting … but you will feel a lot better AFTER you load the dishwasher and toss in a load of laundry. Instead of turning on the television, turn on some good music or listen to a book on tape.
  • Find creative ways to delegate certain chores you really don’t like to do. Do you hate having to figure out what’s for dinner every night? Find a “dinner buddy” (perhaps with the “working mom” next door, or from a play group), and once or twice a week double a recipe to trade and take home, so you don’t have to cook the next night! Do you just really need an hour of peace and quiet? Maybe your neighbor would be willing to host a “pizza and movie” night in exchange for weeding her garden.
  • Teach your kids to help themselves. Train your kids early in life to value self-sufficiency. A six-year-old is capable of pouring herself a bowl of cereal. An eight-year-old can make a peanut-butter sandwich (better yet, have her make a whole loaf of them and freeze, so you can pull them out each morning for lunch boxes).
  • Beware the “witching hour.” The hour before dinner can be the most stressful hour of the day, so be ready for it. Have a special “play corner” and a nutritious snack for younger children (perhaps a few veggies from dinner), and send older children to bathe and change into their jammies while you take a moment to turn on some good music and pour yourself a glass of wine while you fix dinner. 
  • Exercise is your friend! A ten-minute romp in the park or around the block after dinner with kids and dog helps everyone to reconnect and enjoy one another. That connectedness is a natural mood-elevator – especially when you turn off the cell phone and focus totally on the activity at hand.

What are some of your “secrets” for combatting your Mommy Monster?

Weekend Ponderings: Living Free (A.K.A. “Bossing Day”)

From the readings this weekend, the Book of Galatians:

For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.

“Come with me, Mommy! I wanna show you the fairy castle! There’s a little river and everything!” 

At the back of our lot is “God’s little acre,” a section loaded with brush and brambles as far as little eyes can see. Wild blackberries ripe for the picking — and every time they bring in a Cool Whip carton full, I pull out a little “Mommy Magic” and whip up a pie.

Now, many days I will send them out into the acre so I can have fifteen minutes of peace and quiet to do something daring, like scrub the kitchen floor. But today, I went with them.

Clambering down the back steps leading down from the deck, Christopher turns and gives me a quizzical expression. “I can’t believe it.”

“Can’t believe what, Sweetie?”

“You came outside. You NEVER come out here with us. You never go outside.” (Which of course was not the truth, but perception is reality.) “But today . . . you came with us!”

Three cheers for Mommy. Who by this time is feeling more than a bit chagrined. Of COURSE I go outside! But I was determined to make THIS adventure a memorable one.

“So… where are we going?”  Sarah took me by the hand and led me through the pickers. (Ouch.) Squished up to our ankles in mud. (Yuck.) Listened intently for buzzing or hissing or any other evidence of wildlife. (Eek.)

Finally … There it was. The fairy castle. Right beside a bend in the “river” (a little spring bubbling out of the ground), a natural rise in the ground surrounded by wild grapevines. “You know what would be fun, Mommy?” pipes Sarah. “A PICNIC! Peanut-butter sandwiches, and Rice Krispie bars, and grapes. An CREAM soda!”

Both kids looked at me expectantly. It was only nine o’clock, but suddenly a picnic seemed the most reasonable thing in the world. Must have been all the fairy dust … “Okay, kids. Let’s do it.”

“Oh, boy!!! We get to be the BOSS today!”

And so, “Bossing Day” was born.  We went inside and made our picnic, went to the Fairy Castle, and listened to the birds. Then we changed our clothes and headed for the library, and picked up a half-dozen books about Mackinac Island, and went to the park to read them.

We played “spider” and examined spiderwebs and got Dum-Dums at the post office. We went to McDonalds and tried on sneakers at Meier, and I even let Sarah pick out the “cover-up” I needed for our outing to the Grand Hotel next week. (Yards and yards of black, flowing material to cover yards and yards of white, flowing body.)

Finally, we headed to the mall and I promised them we’d go bungee jumping (kiddy style) if they would sit VERY quietly while I got my hair cut. So Sarah brought in four “Biscuit” books and Christopher took in his Judy Blume (he’s on a Blume kick lately) … and, lo and behold, I discovered it IS possible to get a decent haircut while your children are watching. Who knew?

Then we went to Teavana and picked out a special treat for Dad: a canister of chai that is spicy enough to make him smile.  Then we went home and made BLTs.

All in all, a very good day . . . And all of it kid-directed. We talked about books they were reading, and what they wanted to do this summer, and what they think about late at night, and all kinds of stuff kids will talk about when you REALLY listen.

Note to self:  Schedule more “Bossing Days” into our summer schedule.

Father’s Day Idea: Tie Cakes!

Wondering what to get Dad for Father’s Day this year?

How about tie? A tie CAKE, that is!

College student “Matt” asked me to share this link with you, to give you ideas. I’ve posted my personal favorite here (mostly because you could reproduce this without resorting to marzipan, which I find more than a bit intimidating).

How are YOU going to celebrate Father’s Day this year?

Weekend Ponderings: Faithful “Even When”

When fat cells grow, and hormones go
And gray hairs fill the sink again.
I will still be here, you know.
I will love you, even when.

This little ditty captures the essence of the marriage bond — for better, for worse, forever. Over the years I’ve watched as various friends and family members had this bond tested in the extreme by illness, infidelity, and financial ruin.

One example that sticks with me is the memory of my maternal grandmother tending to her husband as he battled first alcoholism then Alzheimers. Even when he grew belligerent and had to be locked in to keep him from wandering the streets at night, she stuck with him. It wasn’t a sentimental, syrupy kind of love; it was a love that did not shy away from personal inconvenience or pain.

It was the kind of love that persisted “even when.”

Such memories get me through the tough times, when the pace of life quickens until the days run together like Sarah’s watercolors, one barely distinguishable from another. Trying to figure out how the hours are best spent, and where, can be overwhelming. Tempers flare, frustration rises … choosing the joy becomes more and more intentional.

Choosing to love, even when.

In matters of faith, this choice is just as important. Choosing to believe, to trust, to stay. When people and even whole institutions let us down, remaining faithful despite it all requires that we tap into a source of power greater than ourselves. Temptations to defect are everywhere. As we read in this weekend’s reading:

In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.
But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed,
because you know from whom you learned it,
and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures,
which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Lord, help me today to stay faithful … even when.

In the Company of God … and Mary … and Mom

My parents were visiting with us this week. Dad put in the dog fence (thanks, Dad!) … and Mom roped me into one of “those” conversations. You know the kind: high in drama, low in resolution.

This time, the subject was Catholicism … my practice of it, to be precise. I’ve had six years of intensive formal faith formation … but because in her mind I’ve rejected everything she taught me, she can only conclude I’ve been “brainwashed.” She accused me of considering her a pagan going to hell because she’s not Catholic (where she got that, I have no idea). Yet clearly believes that the only reason I have any chance at heaven at all is because at one point in my childhood I prayed the “sinner’s prayer.” Not because I’m a Catholic Christian … but despite it.

*Sigh* “I never said you were a pagan, Mom. I never even thought it.”

“You say it all the time, with your actions! You wouldn’t even go to church with us at Easter!”

And there it was. For her, the fact that I won’t take my kids to their church when we visit them, or at the very least insist on finding a Catholic service that we can attend in addition to theirs, is proof positive to them that we consider ourselves better Christians than they are.

“It’s not that we’re better Christians, Mom. It’s that I need all the help I can get to stay spiritually strong … and the Catholic Church is the only place I can receive the Eucharist. It’s the only place I can be part of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Christ.”

She rolled her eyes. “By what you do, you are teaching your children that Grandma and Grandpa aren’t real Christians.”

“Actually … by not taking them to your church, especially when you have a communion service, I avoid having them asking questions about why you aren’t Catholic. They notice stuff, Mom. They see that you don’t make the sign of the cross when we say grace. They wonder why you aren’t as excited as we are about Christopher receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. They want to know why Jesus isn’t present in the tabernacle at your church, as He is at our church. They notice everything. I tell them that you are Christians, but not Catholic Christians, and we pray for the time when we can all go to church together … in the Catholic Church.”

“So you DO think you’re better Christians than your father and me.”

“Not better Christians … just Christians who have access to graces that right now you do not. I’d be so happy if one day you would look more into the history of the sacraments, and let yourself consider what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you.’ I know how much the sacraments have changed my life … and I think they would bless you, too.”

“I don’t need sacraments. I have my faith. I can read the Bible for myself. I didn’t raise you this way … and I’ll never understand why you felt the need to forsake your spiritual roots.”

A light hit. “Mom, how did Grandma feel when you decided to stop going to the church you were raised in?”

“It’s not the same. I didn’t have a personal relationship with God until I was in my thirties. I was baptized in Grandma’s church, but I didn’t know God.”

“I met God in a profoundly personal way in my thirties, too … through the Church. I came to know my brothers and sisters in faith — all the saints in heaven. I came to understand that I have a spiritual mother who loves me and prays for me in heaven, just as you do here on earth.” (I knew I was treading dangerous waters here, since Mom has told me how hurtful it is that I consider Mary my mother.) “And just like you, Mom … I’m trying to raise my children to love God and serve Him with everything they have. That, I got from you.”

She sniffed, considering this. “I do get a kick out of watching you lead VBS and doing all the arts and crafts I used to do when you were little.”

“You were a great Sunday school teacher. You understood how important it is to be consistent with kids, to keep things simple and straightforward until they get older and can handle more complex issues. You brought us to church every Sunday, because Sunday is God’s day.

“And that is what I’m doing with my kids, too. We go to church … to our church … because that is the faith we are practicing. We go to that church because, as Catholics, we are obligated to go … and, because I want to be there. It’s not that I don’t want to be with you during that hour. It’s that I have a higher responsibility, one that I take very seriously.

“Mom, I want you to know that I understand that you don’t feel entirely comfortable at Mass, and that if you decide to go to your old church when you’re visiting us, I won’t be at all offended. If it means that much to you, I’m even willing to go with you to your church, by myself, on a Sunday when your church isn’t serving communion … so long as you don’t give me a hard time about going to a second service to fulfill my obligation to God.”

This was how the conversation ended. It’s not ideal, when issues of faith divide families. God intended religion to unite people, to draw them closer together as they approach transcendent reality together, on their knees. And I suppose if we were all completely rational about it, and worked hard to understand each other’s sensitivities and needs, the differences wouldn’t hurt so much.

As it is, I could relate to what Moses said to God in today’s first reading:

Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own” (Exodus 34:8-9).

“Oh, Lord … come along in our company. Even when at times that company is divided. Even at times when we can’t understand each other. Even when at times we find it impossible to get past certain hurts, certain realities, certain conflicts. There comes a time when we have to make allowances whenever possible for the feelings of others … but we cannot allow those feelings to deter us from doing what is right. And so, today I’d like to offer this prayer for those of us who have family on the other side of the Tiber … close enough that we can see their tears through our own.

Lord of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
God of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel,
From the beginning You created family.
From the beginning You ARE family.

One and holy Triune God, unify with bonds of love.
Soothe angry hearts and enlighten blinded minds.
Make us forgiving, consoling, kind.
Render us family, just like You.

Mother Mary, Queen of Sorrows,
See our pain and pray for us.
We are waiting for a miracle …
Send out a miracle of love today.
This column may be reprinted with the following credit line: “Copyright 2008 Heidi Hess Saxton ( Used with permission. All rights reserved.”